As we get into the holiday season, there are a great many things to be thankful for. Family, friends and good health always top this list. This year, Pleasant Hill can also be grateful for all the volunteers that make the community what it is.
It was not an easy task to select just a few volunteers when so many people contribute in so many ways, so we selected three volunteers that represent three very different ways to give back.
Every year the Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce honors community members who go above and beyond to make the city exceptional.
This year’s chamber volunteer of the year was individual chamber member Kevin P. Harvey Jr.
Harvey joined the chamber after his band, Psycho Circus, played at Chill on the Hill. After the event, he spoke with Cathy Jensen, Executive Director of the Chamber, who told him about all the things the Chamber does.
Harvey helps the Chamber with most of their events by setting up and tearing down fences and stages, putting out banners and fliers around the city, helping with mailings. He also does a lot of odds and ends during the events.
“The first day I set up and tore down Chill, I was hooked,” he says.
Harvey says he really enjoys seeing everyone come together, and to be a part of something is what he really enjoys out of his time spent volunteering. He’s also been seen handing out candy at Trunk or Treat and took part in the First Annual Haunted Hotel at Sleep Inn and Suites.
“You feel good knowing people are having a good time,” he says.
His good deeds don’t stop with the Chamber. He also helps out his elderly neighbors’ and friends’ parents with lawn care and tree trimming and just about anything else that they may need.
He attributes his desire to help others as his father’s influence. As a child, he watched his father fix flat tires and stop and offer help to people on the side of the road. He also used to plow the streets for those who lived on their grandparent’s street.
“Just watching my dad help people and seeing what it meant to him and seeing him smile,” he says.
He says he was shocked when he was named Volunteer of the Year. It wasn’t something he was expecting.
“I just did it because I wanted to have fun,” he says. “The reward was within itself.” Even so, he says he can’t deny that getting the award “felt like Christmas.”
Jensen says it was very hard to narrow down just one volunteer of the year. The nominee has to be a Chamber member and is recommended to a board which makes the final decision.
“It’s never an easy decision,” she says of choosing who will receive the honor.
The Chamber isn’t the only way to volunteer within the community.
Kevin Umphress, Children and Family Pastor at Berean Assembly of God Church, has found numerous ways to volunteer in and out of the church.
Within the church, he has headed up several large events including the annual giant haystack for 15 years, spring break day camp, as well as gift baskets and programs for needy children and families.
Two years ago, he decided to start doing things outside of the church to expand his impact on the community. He started attending city council meetings and still makes almost every one so he can find out what the city needs. He says that’s when he figured out that he could find ways to help others by doing things he enjoys doing so his volunteer work would be fun.
“At that point, I got involved with the library,” he said. He volunteers there once a week doing whatever the library staff needs done to help them out.
Umphress also got together with some friends to plan the Spring Time Hill Climb, a 5K and 10K which raises funds for Drops of Hope, an organization that helps foster kids in central Iowa. The race is always held in April, but the date for next year’s event has yet to be confirmed.
Next year Umphress is hoping to have a health fair to coincide with the Spring Time Hill Climb to offer health and safety screenings for residents. He would also like to increase awareness for the need of bike helmets for children.
“One of the things with my positions here is I see a lot of accidents and see a lot of bad things happen, so that’s a passion of mine,” he says.
Umphress also wanted to start a community garden. Prior to living in Pleasant Hill, he and his family lived in Portland, Ore., where community gardens were common.
“We have a growing population of apartments and senior living,” Umphress says, giving one reason for the garden.
He says one thing he enjoys and is good at is getting projects started and building the structure so other people can take over and take the project to the next level.
“A lot of people are scared to start something,” he says. “Once it’s started, they’ll join in.”
In the spring, Umphress will join with the library to teach a preschool gardening class. The students will spend a few sessions learning about gardening and will start seedlings at the library which will then be transplanted to the community garden. When the plants are able, they will be donated to Hope Ministries.
“We’ve got three different entities that are working together in that project,” he says.
Last year, Umphress and his sons, Renn, 12, and Zayvn, 9, worked together to grow lettuce for Hope which Umphress says was a lot of fun.
He and his sons also create balloon animals at the annual library Halloween party.
When not volunteering, Umphress enjoys running and hanging out with his sons and wife, Trudy. He also does cartooning and just about anything to do with art. His boys are into sports — baseball and swimming specifically — so that keeps the family busy.
Umphress says he really focuses on volunteer projects that improve the “physical, mental and spiritual health” of the town.
“I just feel like it’s what we’re supposed to do,” Umphress says.
Another Pleasant Hill resident who has found a way to give back is Ruth Sharp. Sharp spends quite a bit of her time making her way around the city trying to give back in any way she can.
For the last 20 years or so, Sharp has spent one day a week at Mercy East putting together packets for the mother-baby unit and in the pulmonary rehab center. She does whatever she can, including making copies, stapling and running errands as needed.
She really enjoys the work she does there, especially being able to help people.
“There’s so many people that I meet and get acquainted with,” she says.
She has also spent two days a week at Pleasant Hill Elementary for the last 24 years where she acts as a “gofer for the teachers.” She says she does whatever they need her to do, except teach the students.
“The teachers know that’s not my thing,” she laughs. “I don’t feel like I’m qualified for that.”
he Not New shop in Des Moines also benefits from Sharp’s volunteerism. She organizes and tags items for sale one day a week.
Another day for Sharp is spent at the senior center serving meals and playing cards.
She takes Saturdays off, except for once a month when she is helping out with the Share Program. On Sundays Sharp will be greeting people at the door of Rising Sun Church.
Sharp says she started volunteering after her husband died and she “just needed something to do.” One thing led to another, filling her time and keeping her busy.
What keeps her going? “Satisfaction of being helpful,” she says. “Being productive.”
The way she seems to always describe what she does is “whatever needs to be done.”
When she’s not volunteering, which is rare, Sharp enjoys spending time with her sons, Denny and Ron, and her seven grandkids and three great-grandkids. She also enjoys walking and reading.
As with all our volunteers, Sharp says she doesn’t feel that she deserves special recognition. “I do it because I enjoy it, not to get a pat on the back,” she says.
Harvey gave the same sentiment, stating he doesn’t know why he was chosen to be the Chamber’s Volunteer of the Year. “The other volunteers work hard, too,” he says.
Umpress emphasizes that the real heroes are the police and firemen who save lives and really look out for the community.
Members of the community who are interested in volunteer work can find a variety of ways and places to participate.
Harvey would direct anyone interested in helping to the Chamber.
“Check it out, see what it’s like, and visit Cathy. Everybody’s great,” he says.
Sharp suggests volunteers who are interested in helping can start with the local school or The Not New shop where she helps out. She says both places could use more volunteers to help with their programs.
“You just have to want to do something,” she says.
Umphress says, “I think we’re here on Earth for each other. To better each others’ lives.”
To get started, he suggests people “find a need, fill a need.” He also suggests looking to the city for volunteer opportunities. Anyone who might be interested in contacting Umphress to help with the race, can so so through the website for Spring Time Hill Climb at www.runpleasanthillia.com.